"It's my first time playing these songs in France" says Georgia, the BBC Sound of 2016 star, as she addresses the 5,000 strong crowd on the first night of Trans Musicales in Rennes, Brittainy. The fact that Jean-Louis Brossard, the founder of this superb festival, has booked her before anyone else in the country is just one of the signs that he has a magic pair of ears.
Since the festival began in 1979, Jean-Louis' Trans Musicales has hosted an incredible array of the best artists to grace this planet before the rest of the world realised they were there. In 1991 he brought in Nirvana, 1996 Daft Punk, and in 1993 gave Björk a gig as she was promoting Debut. Whilst 2013 saw Jungle and London Grammar play before they exploded in popularity. With such sharp booking skills, Jean-Louis Brossard's festival has earned a lot of respect from recreational festival goers and those working in the industry. This weekend is widely attended by festival organisers, booking agents, A&R's, and us as journalists who look to Trans Musicales as a lens of discovery.
The Trans Musicales acts that we're here to see play over at an air hangar on the outskirts of the city centre that's made accessible by shuttle bus. But the city is a hard place to leave – towering brutalist architecture and cobbled streets lined with timber fronted medieval houses make for seductive scenery. Meanwhile, there's an intoxicating festival atmosphere in the centre thanks to the fringe festival Bars En Trans that's stepped up in place of Trans Musicales previous dominance in the city centre. The hangar's been the main event location since 2004.
Nevertheless, we board a shuttle bus and in 15 minutes we're in the most incredibly well set up place for an indoor festival imaginable. There's an aircraft hangar complex on a flat stretch of land on the edge of a quiet main road with few houses around, it's very isolated and the perfect place to make loud noise until the early hours. Each separate hall, with its tall wooden beamed ceiling, is decked out with huge P.A's for live bands and DJ's and there's always something going on in one of them.
For a first night it's not as busy as you'd expect from the 50,000 tickets sold but the majority of the gigs go on late and most of the world has work tomorrow so it's understandable. But the atmosphere is building. Bella Union signee Clarence Clarity is the first live act for Clash, but his highly stylised vocals - so good on record - seem lost in the big space and the frontman appears increasingly agitated by the lack of connection with the audience. In contrast, Rennes-based minimal soul band Her, who we walk past crowds of increasingly drunk French people to get to, have everyone dancing and set the festival off to the start it deserves. Her, who channel similar influences to Jungle, could well be the breakthrough French band of 2016 thanks to such a carefully produced single in 'Quite Like' and they've got great stage presence and a huge sound that fills the room.
Next up for Clash is Georgia, the daughter of Leftfield's Neil Barnes, and she's got a great bond with the crowd for a newcomer. The ethnomusicology graduate, dressed in a green and red camouflage suit, tells us moments before she gets on stage, her music is a 'Patchwork of different sounds inspired by London', which explains her broad pallet. There's nods toward the power of her Leftfield thanks to the careful appropriation of technology to get the best electronic sounds. Meanwhile, her love of bands like Fever Ray and M.I.A. are evident. Her eclecticism fits the Trans Musicales philosophy of wanting to bring acts of all genres together, and the BBC Sound of 2016 star is revelling in the positive atmosphere here as she plays her biggest show to date.
After dusting off from the night before, the presence of Rennes on a Friday calls us and we experience a glimpse of Bars En Trans. Bands play in scenic and tightly packed bars and cafés, where champagne is actually affordable. An electronic producer combining with traditional Malian style musicians is among the most interesting things we hear in the city. Fortunately, gigs at the hangar go on until 6:30am so the schedule of the festival allows us ample time to be getting to know Rennes before we immerse in the music over at the hangar.
Soon enough, we shuttle off again and after the multitude of security checks – understandable after the recent Paris attacks – we're back in the midst of a much busier evening than last night. The Friday at Trans Musicales is there for people to party their hardest and the crowd are ruthlessly drunk. As with any festival that's heavy on drinking, it's essential to stock up on good food. Fortunately, Trans Musicales has it covered in abundance. Our favourite is the oyster bar, which is set in the main food and drink hangar where there's no music, just the civilised sound of people enjoying time with their friends. The oysters are fresh, local, and unlike most cities they're cheap and make for a perfect festival treat.
With our palettes refreshed we're prepared for the powerful instrumental post-rock of Totorro. The French band have everyone egging them on and responding to tempo changes with sheer delight. The best moment comes as they wheel on a second drummer while he's playing, adding spark to a solid performance. Elsewhere, Canadian four-piece Dralms impress with their cavernous guitar playing, haunting synths, and deep bass that creates a unique sound that holds our attention. Meanwhile, Netherlands band DeWolff, who look like Kings Of Leon did on the first album, craft an impressive psychedelic blues rock sound that refreshingly uses an Hammond organ instead of a bass.
Saturday begins with a stroll around Renne's excellent Saturday market. Unlike Britain, cheap socks, poor quality burgers, and back of the lorry trainers aren't on offer. What is though is brilliant and an important part of visiting Trans Musicales. The fruit and veg and it appears to have come directly from people's own farms or allotments. The fish is still wriggling, and cheese can't possibly come in more varieties.
With pockets full of cultural belly-fillers, we gander back to catch the last night of music at the hangar. Timbuktu's Imarahn are our first port of call and it's lucky we did. Their desert blues is the best we've heard since Tinariwen and Songhoy Blues and hopefully they'll follow in those bands footsteps and play Glastonbury next year. The crowd were completely hypnotised by the feverish blend their infusion of traditional Tuareg music with blues rock melodies provides.
Next up is Rival Consoles, which is the moniker for producer Ryan Lee West from Forest Hill, South London. The 7,000 capacity Hall 9, which is the only hall with seating at the back where you can admire the lasers and visuals, is packed out for his set. In a similar way to Forest Swords, Rival Consoles manages to create vastly experimental electronic soundscapes with strange flashing visuals to accompany it. The compositions feel like expressions from the deepest, grainiest corners of the producer's imagination and succeed in bringing us along on his twisted ride.
Powell, the Diagonal Records founder, continues our journey through the best electronic sounds on site. The XL Recordings-signee crafts some imaginative, innovative, and heavy techno for one of the rowdiest experiences of the weekend. Nothing on the Greenroom stage, which is where he's playing, has sounded as original and interesting as this all weekend. City Kay, meanwhile, play a top notch reggae set that incorporates elements of trip hop. The French crowd appear completely immersed and after an intense whack to the senses that the DJ's just provided, it's a welcome change of mood.
The last band to intrigue Clash over the weekend are Khun Narin's Electric Phin Band - a Thai band who put their album out on the brilliant indie label Innovative Leisure. The band are led Khun Narin who plays a Phin, a form of lute traditional in Thailand, that's fed through distortion, phaser, and delay. Khun drives the songs making the crowd go wild, as the band, dressed all in red, provide the rhythms essential for a 3am set on a Saturday night at an air hangar in the middle of nowhere outside Rennes.
Overall, Trans Musicales has delivered a completely fantastic festival that's expanded Clash's taste. Traditional Thai instruments pedalled up like Tame Impala's guitars, the best electronic soundscapes from South London, and Malian desert blues are just a few of the beautiful contrasts we've had. We've also witnessed bands, such as Her and Georgia make an important leap forward in their career, as Jean-Louis Brossard brought in incredible talent yet again. Beyond the music the location, and the city of Rennes have so much charm that for Clash, Trans Musicales is the perfect place to discover new music. Bring on next year.
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Words: Cai Trefor